IT'S JANUARY and once again many of us will be storming local fitness clubs in the mass movement toward summer shape up. Or, like me, some of you might already be devoted aerobicizers. My addiction began in southern California -- the center, some say, of the aerobics craze. On moving to Washington I became a loyal Spa Lady, bemoaning how D.C. just didn't seem to offer the variety of aerobics programs I'd found in California. This assignment changed all that.
In recent months I have worked out at almost every type of studio, club or class the area has to offer, and the variety is amazing. The extremes range from a private class taught by Mary Pressnall, co-owner of Body Business Inc, to a low- impact weights class with Bonnie Falbo at Powerplay! in Georgetown.
Not knowing what to expect of a "private" class, I followed Pressnall to a client's home. From there we went for a one-mile walk down Connecticut Avenue and concluded with floor exercises and weights in the client's den. By contrast to most aerobics classes, the workout was light. Pressnall said she tailors her exercises to the individual's fitness level. "I'm not going to teach great moves," she says, "to people who can't follow."
Powerplay!, in contrast, offers recessed lighting, two intimate carpeted studios, hard-driving music, sweat and sweat and sweat. "Powerplay," says Falbo, "is not the place for dilettantes." Falbo's classes are a good place to go a little wild: She sees aerobic exercise as a way of getting in touch with our primitive selves. "The sub-conscious psyche is pulled up through exercise," she says. Powerplay is a co-ed studio with a small share of men right now. If you've remotely thought about giving aerobics a try, guys, Falbo's low-impact class would be a good first step. You'll either walk away convinced or crawl out never to return.
Between these two extremes, finding the class that's right for you is like fitting a shoe. First assess your needs. If weight loss is your goal (whose isn't?), change it: Think instead of the positives, such as how good you'll feel after a hard workout. As you begin an exercise program, shop around for a place that will give you the attention and motivation you need. Dega Schembri at Fit Physique offers a class for excessively overweight individuals which combines a lower-intensity workout for an extended time to enhance fat-burning. Dega welcomes "people looking for just some way of becoming more physically active than they are."
On the other hand, if you are the "type A" exerciser -- racing in at 12:13 for the 12:15 class and leaving with makeup and hair perfect by 1:05 -- Suissa studio co-owner Susan Marks Luria will love you. With an extensive dance background, Susan creates graceful but powerful movements that really will get your heart rate up. Like other studios, Suissa welcomes men, and offers an innovative class in "karobics" -- combining the skill and power of karate with the muscle and cardiovascular work of aerobics. It is also an ideal way for women to develop both strength and self-defense skills.
One of the newer catch-phrases in fitness is "low-impact aerobics," which is purportedly less punishing to muscles and joints. A good low-impact class is difficult to teach, and thus hard to find. Some instructors present it as the mellow (read: easier) option to high-impact, but when it's taught properly, it can be a better endurance test and overall workout. In keeping with the trends, most studios already have good low-impact classes varying in intensity. One of the best low-impact classes at the club level, however, is Statia Clark's at Washington Squash and Nautilus. She cares about working with the class's talents or skill level, and it shows. "Fitness," she says, "is a mental and physical thing. And our program is geared toward giving you as much of the mental as the physical."
Just as low impact is settling into its own niche, other avant-garde aerobic forms are surfacing. Charmaine Schore, formerly an instructor at Suissa, has opened her own studio called Synergy Dance and Movement Center. It offers an innovative partnership of dance and aerobics. Concerned with neuro-muscular training, Charmaine helps her students move in a less regimented and more free-flow fashion. FINDING FITNESS
Finding the right class or club to help you get back into shape requires you to choose the place with the best program for your needs at the times convenient for you and for a price that won't slim down only your wallet.
There are three distinctive categories of workout options: clubs, studios and classes. Clubs usually have more elaborate facilities including weight-training machines and amenities such as a sauna and complimentary toiletries. (The Westin even offers warm towels, free exercise clothing and laundry services at no extra cost.) At the studios, on the other hand, the locker rooms and other facilities may be lacking, but the quality of the classes compensates. The cost is also higher than clubs, but in terms of personal attention, you often get what you pay for. Every place offers a complimentary class, so the way to find the one that's best for you is to shop around.
The following list includes many of the major clubs, studios and classes in the area. County recreation departments also offer many aerobics classes, often at lower cost. Contact your local department for more information.
BODY BANK --
1122 Connecticut Avenue NW, 296-0070. This studio, formerly Diana's, changed its name and its programs in an effort to attract more male clients. Conveniently located downtown, Body Bank offers beginner to advanced classes with a very good low-impact class taught by program director Cassie O'Neill. "We've opened up the classes to more athletic aerobics and harder workouts, but we still include the dance for those who prefer it," O'Neill says. Yoga and classes to help women cope with the effects of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome offered. Prices range from $11 for a single class to $849 for an annual membership, with student discounts.
BODY DESIGN BY GILDA --
4801 Wisconsin Avenue NW, 363-4801. This studio is a subsidiary of Gilda Marks Industries, a fitness company based in Los Angeles. Class levels range from stretch-and-firm to a 75-minute pro class and some incorporate weights. High-impact and low-impact aerobics with weights available. Prices range from $12 a class to $132.50 for unlimited monthly classes.
CONTOURS EXERCISE STUDIO & BODYWEAR --
4052 S. 28th Street, Arlington, 820-8688. Contours offers beginner, intermediate and advanced aerobics, jazz, circuit weight training, pre- and post-natal classes as well as special classes for overweight individuals. Says owner Suzanne Olson: "We think of ourselves as an educational center for teachers and students. And we don't want to exclude those who are not already in good shape." Prices range from $8 per class to $157 for three months unlimited classes.
FIT PHYSIQUE --
1500 Massachusetts Avenue NW and at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, Connecticut and Florida avenues NW, 659-5959. After teaching private and group lessons for years, Dega Schembri has finally opened her own studio. The schedule offers beginner, intermediate and advanced aerobics and in-house corporate classes or seminars. Prices range from $5.25 to $10 a class, with discounts for a series of classes. Corporate and student discounts available.
JOY OF MOTION --
1643 Connecticut Avenue NW, 387-0911. This non-profit dance and fitness center offers classes in ballet, modern, jazz, tap, improvisation and a body dynamics program and dance/aerobics exercises. Founder and director Michelle Ava characterizes the studio as "a place that inspires beginners as well as professionals to expressively design a dance/fitness program that fits comfortably into their lives." Prices range from $7 a class to programs from $70 to $250.
3251 Prospect Street NW, 337-1780. Classes are offered from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekends, so you're sure to find a time that fits your schedule. Classes are small with plenty of personal attention and are geared toward the intermediate and advanced levels. While the clients are usually serious, Bonnie Falbo describes her studio as, "the 'Cheers' of exercise studios." Prices range from $12 for a single class to a series of four for $44 up to 24 for $172. The first one is free.
SALON JEAN PAUL --
4820 Yuma St. NW, 966-4600. This salon offers five levels of classes with ballet on Saturdays. Director Neva Ingalls teaches an excellent advanced low-impact aerobics class at 11:30 weekdays. Ingalls' program is geared toward persons seeking a "fitness program for life." Prices start at $13 a class, with reduced rates for subscription to a series of classes.
SOMEBODIES EXERCISE STUDIO --
1070 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, 338-3822. With 80 to 90 classes each week, Somebodies can rest on its laurels as the oldest studio in Georgetown. The environment is very family-like, and director Robin Land tries to staff the studio with the approval of the members. Class levels vary to suit the absolute beginner and the super advanced. Prices range from $13 a class to $176 for 24 classes. The first class is free. Corporate discounts available.
3068 M Street NW, 333-5525. In their second-story M Street studio, Patrick Suissa and Susan Marks Luria offer classes from 6:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. The classes are geared toward the intermediate/advanced crowd without excluding beginners. Weights are used in some classes, and high- and low-impact is taught. Prices range from $16 a class to $125 for monthly unlimited. Student discounts as well as special packages in conjunction with the beauty salon are also offered.
SYNERGY DANCE AND MOVEMENT CENTER --
4321 Wisconsin Avenue NW, 363-4664. With a staff of 16 qualified instructors, Synergy offers creative aerobics/dance, blues ballet, tai chi, professional dance and other classes. Prices range from $11 a class to $360 for three months with professional dance rates and discounts for children.
ASPEN HILL RACQUET CLUB & FITNESS CENTER --
14501 Homecrest Road, Silver Spring, 598-5200. This 13,000-square-foot club has 10 indoor tennis courts, eight indoor racquetball courts, a ski training center, a tenth-of-a-mile indoor track, sauna, whirlpools, Nautilus and other weight equipment. Twenty-eight aerobics classes offered weekly, including low- , controlled- and high-impact programs and advanced, super and 90-minute workouts. Special programs offered every month. Membership initation fees from $200 to $500, plus monthly dues.
CAPITOL HILL SQUASH & NAUTILUS --
214 D Street SE, 547-2255. A full-service club with squash courts, clinics and tournaments. The gym facility offers a well-developed one-on-one training program for athletes or just people preparing for a big event. The gym also has an extensive Nautilus circuit, free weights and cardiovascular equipment. Offering 60 classes a week, the aerobics program is currently geared toward intermediate students with pointers offered for beginners and advanced. Membership fees range from $125 up, plus monthly dues.
COURTS ROYAL --
This chain of clubs includes eight Courts Royal, including two at 1122 Kirkwood Road, Arlington (522-1702) and 4317 Ravensworth Road, Annandale (256-6600) and four Sport and Health Clubs, at 4400 Montgomery Avenue, Bethesda (656-9570) and other locations. There is reciprocity between the Courts Royal clubs; members of the Sport and Health clubs share reciprocity with Courts Royal clubs only if their membership allows. Program Director Kati Ray says the aerobics classes are primarily geared toward the intermediate and advanced level exercise and combine low- and high-impact work. Various types of classes are taught, including a "Body Sculpture" class with weights each evening. Some locations feature tennis and squash courts. All have racquetball and Nautilus equipment. Prices range from $45 to $75 monthly with initiation fees varying according to location.
HOLIDAY SPAS --
Locations scattered throughout the Washington area. The company declined to provide price or program information.
NAUTILUS FITNESS CENTER --
1901 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (887-0760), 1101 Vermont NW (289-0081) and 9860 Lee Highway, Fairfax (691-1180). The centers have a full-service gym with whirlpool and sauna at some locations. The aerobics programs differ among locations. Classes are on a separate fee schedule from the club and tend to be crowded at some locations. Prices are a $199 initiation fee plus monthly dues.
OFFICE HEALTH CENTER --
1990 M Street NW, 872-0222. With a good corporate membership structure, this is a club that gears itself toward the working crowd. Many changes have been made since the days when only chamber music could be heard in the gym! In addition to a full service gym, co-ed and "ladies" aerobic classes are offered with emphasis on toning and body conditioning. Prices for individual memberships are $396 a year with corporate rates available.
SPA LADY --
1750 K Street NW, 833-1606, 4250 Connecticut Avenue NW, 364-1190, and 500 N. Capitol Street NW, 347-7224. These clubs are part of a fitness chain affiliated with the International Physical Fitness Association. The advantage is that memberships apply to other clubs nationwide, but the disadvantage is that personal attention is sometimes lacking. Classes in total fitness, aerobics, yoga, slimnastics, circuit training, body band, with times differing at the locations. Weight machines, free weights and sauna are also offered. Prices range from $20 a month and up.
THE SPORTING CLUB --
8250 Greensboro Drive, McLean, 442-9150. This club features a full service gym, sauna, whirlpool and pool. The aerobic classes include beginner to advanced as well as jazz, tap, ballet and yoga. They are conducted in the gym so they're much larger than average (as many as 100 in some). Aqua aerobics classes are also offered and can be a good introduction to aerobics or well suited for persons with joint problems. Initiation fees range $225 to $1,000 with monthly dues from $46 to $155.
WASHINGTON SQUASH & NAUTILUS --
1120 20th Street NW, 659-9750. This club offers squash courts, clinics, tournaments and a full service gym. With 10 varieties of aerobics classes, director Statia Clark offers a program students can grow with. Initiation fees range from $150 to $500 for a family membership and monthly dues from $44 to $79 cover the use of the facilities.
WESTIN FITNESS CENTER --
2401 M Street NW, 457-5070. This full-service club has gym facilities, squash and racquetball courts, a lap pool, steam room, whirlpool and many other personal services. Low-impact, intermediate and advanced aerobics are offered. Laundry service and free exercise clothing available. Prices include an initiation fee of $400 and annual dues of$875 (or $80 a month).
BODY BUSINESS INC. --
722-0110. Co-owners Mary Pressnall and Coreen Urbina offer private and corporate classes catered to their clients' needs. Emphasizing their role as teachers and not performers, these women guarantee good class participation and development. Classes in the morning, afternoon and evening seven days a week. Private sessions $50 an hour; corporate fees vary.
FIT TOGETHER INC. --
11215-A Lee Highway, Fairfax, 273-5337. Owner Lynn Stocking has a program of aerobics classes, low impact through high impact, running from 9 to 7 weekdays, and 9 to 12 Saturday mornings. Prices are $5 per class, $40 a month for unlimited classes.
FOR EVERY BODY --
D.C. and Maryland, 530-6776. Virginia, 354-7545. This program offers group classes to apartment buildings in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. Levels are designed to suit client needs. Most classes are in the evenings or on Saturday mornings. Fees vary, but average $30 per month for twice-a-week classes.
JAG AEROBICS --
362-1212. Owner Theresa Atkinson teaches group classes at the 19th Street Baptist Church at 4606 16th Street NW. JAG was "particularly created for persons of African descent to balance the negative conditioning of capture, displacement and slavery," Atkinson says. She uses blues, African beats, jazz movement and gospel music to create a very unique and enjoyable class. "I appeal to your sanity and not your vanity," she says. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. at the church. Prices are $6 for one class, $25 for five classes and $40 for 10.
JANET OFFUTT'S FITNESS STUDIO --
6723 Whittier Avenue, McLean, 243-2551. This studio offers a full range of exercise classes exclusively for women. The program includes low-impact aerobics, slimnastics, stretch and tone. Hand and ankle weights provided. Classes are limited to 10 people and are held mornings Monday through Saturday. Prices range from $6.75 to $9 per class for a 10-class series, $11 per class for drop-ins.
870-3433. This franchise fitness program offers hundreds of classes weekly at various locations in the Washington metropolitan area. There are no longterm contracts or initiation fees, but prices vary according to the location.